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Basalt library hopes site selection doesn’t cause a midvalley battle

Basalt Regional Library officials are preparing to solicit public help to select a site for a new facility and are hoping the issue doesn’t inflame a midvalley dispute.

The library’s board of directors must decide Monday night, Jan. 29, whether to place their preferred site before voters later in 2001 or stop the process and start from scratch with public input.

Library Director Jean Winkler said she believes the board will start over rather than risk taking their preferred site to the election and finding out it wasn’t popular.

“Anything can happen. I don’t know where we’re going to end up right now,” said Winkler.

Wherever it ultimately goes, the library district will need voter approval of a bonding question to purchase land and build a new 20,000-square-foot library. Another property tax increase would be sought for a larger operations budget.

After working for two years and forming a site selection committee, the library board selected vacant land on the south side of the Basalt Bypass as its preferred alternative. The land is in unincorporated Pitkin County, so library officials approached the Basalt Town Council earlier January about possible annexation.

They were told in no uncertain terms to hold off and involve more of the public in the site selection. Several Basalt council members made it clear they want the library to stay in Lion’s Park, where it has been located since 1984.

A contingent of Basalt residents are organizing behind the scenes to lobby to keep the expanded facility in town. Fryingpan Valley resident Lynn Nichols, a member of the library’s site selection committee, has spoken in favor of keeping the building downtown.

She said Wednesday she wants to make sure the public realizes an important decision about the library’s future is soon to be made – and that they need to get involved.

Nichols said the library board should slow the process down and solicit ample public opinion even if it delays construction of a new facility.

“We’re talking about a very important civic building,” Nichols said. “We’re talking about a lot of money that taxpayers will be asked to provide.”

Winkler said she supports public discourse on the issue, as long as participants “look beyond their specific needs” and consider what’s best for the library. She also hopes for a speedy decision so bonding and revenue questions can be placed before voters in November.

Library officials are relieved that the debate hasn’t been on the need for a new facility.

“I haven’t had one person come up to me and say `You don’t need a new library, this one is fine,’ ” Winkler said. “Site seems to be what’s going to make our project sink or swim.”

The existing 3,384-square-foot library serves about 10,000 residents of the district. A 20,000-square-foot facility could handle an anticipated 20 years of growth.

The library has maybe a 400-square-foot children’s center now. That would expand by 11 times at the new library.

The library currently has 22,000 books. It would expand to between 50,000 and 60,000 at the new facility.

Internet access would be expanded from two computers to a significantly greater number.

One of the biggest needs for the library is parking. The current site has only six dedicated spaces. Commuter parking takes up all other spaces near the library.

The site on the south side of the bypass, on the road to Basalt High School, was preferred because it provides plenty of space. Winkler said the new library would be built on two levels and needs up to 80 parking spaces.

Library officials looked at more than a dozen sites to serve a vast district that stretches from the Eagle-Garfield county line in Missouri Heights, through El Jebel and Basalt to subdivisions in the Old Snowmass area like Gateway and Little Elk Creek.

While Basalt residents have spoken loudest on the issue, so far, they comprise only about 20 percent of the district’s population. The El Jebel area – which includes Blue Lake, the El Jebel Mobile Home Park, Summit Vista and Sopris Village – is home to a larger number of district users. And a neighboring subdivision, Willits, is rapidly becoming a small town by itself.

Winkler said she doesn’t want an open process on site selection to explode in the library district’s face with different parts of the midvalley fighting for the facility – like El Jebel and Basalt did over City Market.

The supermarket was built in El Jebel but eventually annexed by Basalt.

“I don’t want it pitted as Basalt versus El Jebel,” Winkler said. “I really don’t want it to get down to that.”

The Basalt Regional Library board meeting will be held at the library at 6:30 p.m. Monday. It is open to the public, but attendees should realize, Winkler said, that the board will discuss how to proceed with site selection. Members won’t actually select the site that night.


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